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emotional abuse




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the signs of emotional blackmail

by LD Lewis & Tina B. Tessina

Most people use Emotional Blackmail on each other from time-to-time. People in healthy relationships call each other on it & set boundaries.

People in unhealthy or abusive relationships often don't realize it is happening or feel powerless to stop it.

Recognizing the signs early on will enable you to avoid ending up in an abusive marriage or an abusive long-term relationship.

The Demand: Your date consistently won't take "no" for an answer.

When you are asked to do something, go somewhere or voice an opinion your date won't allow you to do what you want or convinces you his/her way is the only way. 

In actuality you realize requests are really demands. You come to the conclusion it is better just to agree than to try to get or do something you want.

How to spot this: Choose an activity you want to do & ask to do that. 

Does he/she say, "Sure, no problem."


"That's a good idea, but this weekend doesn't work for me.  I was hoping you could join me for _________.  The next weekend is good though.  Lets plan that for the following weekend."

Or something like:

"I don't enjoy doing that but why don't you go & have a good time."


Does he/she try to make you do what he/she wants to do by:

  • pouting
  • shouting
  • threatening
  • ignoring you 
  • using passive-aggressive behavior

to get his or her own way? 

Testing needs to occur over several weeks. You're looking for consistency & patterns, not isolated incidences.

  • Resistance.  When you try to discuss your wants, observations, opinions & needs, does it feel like every discussion turns into an argument?

How to spot this: Ask yourself how you feel after a disagreement. 

  • Do you feel your partner listened to you? 
  • Do you feel your partner respected your opinions?
  • If you disagreed, do you feel okay w/that or do feel like you might lose your partner because he/she doesnt like what you said? 

This last statement is key. If after a disagreement you feel nervous about your relationship, youre being manipulated. 

A healthy relationship is open to acceptance & disagreement w/out fear of reprisal, loss or ridicule.  Note whether you are just feeling guilty (because deep down you know you are BSing) or if the result made you nervous as to the security of the relationship. 

Remember youre looking for consistency & patterns, not isolated incidences. Make a note each time you feel this way.  If discussions turning to arguments are the norm, this is not a good situation.

  • Pressure.  Your date pressures you to go along. You know when youre being pressured. Its an uncomfortable feeling & your rebellious streak starts to show.  You feel like the person is backing you into a corner or placing conditions on your love or presence. If you feel guilty about not agreeing, fearful that your partner will be displeased or are afraid to speak up, you are being pressured. 

A second manner of applying pressure & emotional manipulation is using silence. This can be ignoring you until you give in or discounting what you say by not responding.  In negotiations, the first person to talk is the less strong of the two.  It is the person who holds his tongue & doesnt speak who keeps the power. 

Men use silence as a weapon more often then women.  It is a way to control the person & the situation & force through discomfort the resolution they are seeking.

How to Spot This: Look for the signs of conditions, manipulation & pressure. These usually follow a action/consequences format w/your partner delivering the consequences:

  • "If you dont.."
  • "If you love me..." 
  • "A mature person wouldn't act this way..."
  • "Youre naive..."
  • "This is for your own good..."
  • "You can't make a decision so I'll do it for you...." etc.

Youre looking for consistency & patterns, not isolated incidences. Make a note each time you feel this way.

  • Threats.  Your date uses threatening or coercing tactics: threatening to end the relationship, tears, vilification, derogatory remarks, rage or badgering.

How to spot this: Watch for anger or name-calling in men & self-pity, name-calling or victimization in women.  If he refers to you even in jest as a bitch, whore, fat, lazy, old, useless, dumb, stupid, cow or any other derogatory remark either directly or indirectly w/his friends, this is form of threatening.

Raising his arm to feign hitting you, shoving a clenched fist in your face or using physical force to make a point is threatening.

If she:

  • begins crying when she doesnt get her way
  • uses the children as pawns for affection
  • withholds sex or affection
  • destroys or damages your property 
  • calls you names like the above

this is a form of threatening. Women tend to be less physical in their threats but many will throw or break things to make a point.  This is threatening.

  • Compliance. If you give in, you're setting a dangerous precedent.  Your date now knows you can be pressured into giving in to him or her & this will increase the intensity of what your date is willing to do to pressure you.

How to spot this: Pay attention to your own reactions because compliance is your reaction to the above techniques. 

  • Are you giving in to avoid a fight?  This is compliance
  • Are afraid if you dont allow him/her to do what he/she wants the person will no longer like you?  This is compliance. 
  • Do you feel like you are not appreciated?  This is compliance. 
  • Do you say yes to things you dont want to do or dont agree with?  This is compliance.


  • Repetition.  An obsessive person will go through these previous five steps over & over, wearing you down each time.  Be sure when you say "no", it means no.

No person is perfect and most people will occasionally use the tactics described above from time to time. The difference between an abused person & one who doesnt get abused is how they react once they realize what they have done or what has been done. 

A person who doesnt get abused confronts the situation & states clearly their objection & the preferred behavior.  They then enforce this through boundaries & leave the situation if the other person continues to use the same tactics.

If the person abusing is healthy, this person will acknowledge & apologize for the behavior, making amends & not allow it to happen again. Over a period of time, such behavior will be infrequent & not a normal reaction. 
A person who is prone to abusing others may be nice for a few weeks or months but the old patterns will resurface in the future, escalating in intensity each time as the need for control increases.

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til' next time! kathleen